I don’t know what it is about me, but people I’ve never met will strike up conversations with me in the most random places. Not just a “Hey, you’re tall. Can you reach that item on the top shelf for me?” in a grocery store (although that does happen to me ALL the time, which is fine) but like, waiting for an elevator, or standing in line before a store opens or whatever, people will start sharing personal experiences with me. I always listen because I feel like the person maybe doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, or maybe they’re scared or lonely or upset and for whatever reason, they see me and feel safe sharing something personal about themselves.
I’ve had people talk to me about their divorce, or about their children, or their job. Once, I was coming out of a doctor’s office and a very distraught woman with two small children spotted me and asked me to take her kids home (thirty miles away) because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t take her kids for her ( I was worried it was a moment of panic and then she’d come to her senses and think I kidnapped them) but she was so upset that I had a security guard come over and help her call a friend or family member to come assist her. Another time earlier this year, I was waiting in a lobby when a very sweet old man, who seemed lonely and scared, struck up a conversation with me, so I stopped what I was doing to listen to him. (I wrote all about that one here.) Maybe this kind of thing happens to everyone and I’m just acutely aware of it myself, but my point is, it happens to me all the time and honestly, I love that people see me and feel safe or that they can trust me with what they’re about to share.
Yesterday, I went with a friend to the Producers Guild to watch a screening of Manchester By The Sea and after the movie ended, there was a Q & A with the writer/director of the film. I had no idea what the movie was about before attending, but I was happy to go and spend some time with my friend. The movie is very good in an “Oh my god, that’s so sad” kind of way. I know even writing about this will be a spoiler so I don’t want to give too many details, but basically, the main character (played by Casey Affleck) is so emotionally detached from everyone he encounters because of the death of his own family, that he has decided that’s how he’s going to live the rest of his own life. It’s gut-wrenching because there are so many opportunities for him to pull himself out of living this way, but it just never happens.
The movie didn’t end the way I expected it to and it took me a few minutes to process that. Then, the writer/director and another man came out on stage to discuss the movie. After about 15 minutes of their discussion, I had to pee so badly that I quietly snuck out of the theatre and made my way over to the restroom. When I came out of the restroom stall, I went over to wash my hands next to the only other person in there; a blonde woman, mid-50s or so, and we made eye contact in the mirror. Once that happened, she asked me “What did you think of the movie?” I told her I had no idea what it was about before coming here and even though it was very good, I was a little unsure of the ending at first, but I get why it ended that way. We both made our way over to the paper towels.
As we finished drying our hands, she tossed her paper towel into the trash and said to me “It was very sad.” I responded, “Yes, it was extremely sad” as I tossed my paper towel in the trash as well. She continued to look at me as we made our way to the door, her face stoic, somehow looking sad and emotionless at the same time, then added “I can completely relate. I lost my daughter and my two grandchildren.”
It took me a second to process what she said, and just as I was about to say “Oh my god, I am so sorry” she turned and opened the door, walked out of the restroom and across the lobby, out the front door of the building to the sidewalk, and was gone.
She didn’t say this to shock me and she didn’t go speeding away so I couldn’t catch her. In that moment in the restroom as she told me of this tragedy in her life, I could see she was trying to have an emotional connection with someone, and that someone happened to be me. But as she opened the door, she had a look on her face as if she regretted that feeling because she, like the character in the movie, had decided she was going to live the rest of her life being emotionally detached from everyone, and so she opened the door to leave that moment behind.
On my drive home, I kept replaying this incident in my head. I felt like I needed to do something with this information but she was gone, and now it remains with me, unresolved. When I got home, Wil and I took the dogs for a walk. I told him what happened as I choked back tears. I felt so sad for the tragedy this woman endured and who is obviously still in so much pain. I thought about it when I went to sleep last night, and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. I can’t even begin to imagine the incredible loss she endured and the pain she is still in. Losing your child and your grandchildren all that the same time is something I don’t think anyone could ever get over.
I don’t even know her name, I only remember her face and the words she said to me. All I want to do is give her a hug and thank her for trusting me enough to reach out, if only for that one moment, but I can’t. And so I’m writing it here, to put it out in the universe in the hopes that somehow, this will get to her.